Michael Norman owns spotlight at Stockholm Diamond League; TV schedule

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Back on April 20, Michael Norman clocked the sixth-fastest 400m in history (43.45 seconds) and the fastest-ever both for somebody so young (21 years old) and this early in a calendar year. With that, he earned the right to utter the number 42.

“Running sub-43 is one of my goals,” Norman said last week. “Given how the season’s progressing, how deep the competition is around the world, I feel like running sub-43 is going to happen if not this year, then the following year.”

Norman actually doesn’t appear to have much competition at the moment. He races roommate Rai Benjamin at Thursday’s Diamond League meet in Stockholm (2 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold), but Benjamin’s primary event is the 400m hurdles.

World-record holder Wayde van Niekerk voiced the same 42-second goal for most of the time since he won the Rio Olympics in 43.03. But the South African has competed just once since the August 2017 World Championships. He missed all of 2018 after tearing a meniscus and ACL in an October 2017 celebrity tag rugby match. This week, Van Niekerk could not give a specific answer when asked to name his next race.

Likewise, 2012 Olympic champion and Rio silver medalist Kirani James raced just three times in the last two years. James, diagnosed with Graves’ disease, said last month that he hoped to return to competition later this season.

So Norman, for now, owns the spotlight.

“The 400m improvement was a shocking thing to me,” he said last week, after lowering his personal best from 44.6 to 43.45 in the last year. Nobody else has bettered 43.62 since van Niekerk broke Michael Johnson‘s record in Rio.

Here are the Stockholm entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

10:30 a.m. — Men’s Shot Put
10:30 — Women’s Shot Put
11 — Women’s Pole Vault
12:25 p.m. — Women’s Discus
1:35 — Men’s Long Jump
1:40 — Men’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Men’s 400m
2:08 — Women’s High Jump
2:11 — Women’s 1500m
2:22 — Men’s 200m
2:30 — Women’s 5000m
2:52 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
2:56 — Men’s Discus
3:02 — Men’s 800m
3:15 — Women’s 800m
3:30 — Women’s 200m
3:40 — Men’s 1500m
3:52 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
4:05 — Men’s 10,000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Discus — 12:25 p.m.
Olympic and world champion Sandra Perkovic makes her season debut against the Rio silver and bronze medalists. The Croat has lost just five times at Diamond League meets since the start of 2012, but Perkovic was beaten by Cuban Yaime Perez in two of her last three meets of 2018, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Men’s Long Jump — 1:35 p.m.
Cuban Juan Miguel Echevarria returns to the scene of one of the viral moments of the 2018 season, when he nearly jumped out of the pit in Stockholm. The 20-year-old hasn’t competed outdoors on the top international level since, only adding to the intrigue of Thursday’s showdown with Olympic champion Jeff Henderson and world champion Luvo Manyonga of South Africa. No man has jumped within eight inches of the world record since Mike Powell set it in 1991.

Men’s 400m — 2:03 p.m.
Norman has beaten Benjamin in all five of their head-to-heads, according to Tilastopaja. That includes that April 20 race in California, where Norman ran 43.45 and Benjamin was a distant second in 44.31. If Norman can go faster in Stockholm, he’ll break a tie with 2004 Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner and become the fourth-fastest man in history behind van Niekerk, Johnson and Butch Reynolds. But the four fastest times in history were all clocked in August. Norman has four more months until he plans to peak at the world championships.

Women’s 200m — 3:30 p.m.
Olympic champion (Elaine Thompson) vs. world champion (Dafne Schippers) vs. fastest woman of 2018 (Dina Asher-Smith) vs. U.S. champion (Jenna Prandini). The Brit Asher-Smith has to be the favorite given she was the only woman to break 22 seconds last year (21.89) and owns the world’s fastest time this season.

Men’s 1500m — 3:40 p.m.
All three Ingebrigtsen brothers are in this event. As are the current kings of the mile — Kenyans Timothy Cheruiyot and Elijah ManangoiJakob Ingebrigtsen, youngest of the Norwegian siblings at age 18, is already the youngest sub-four-minute miler in history. Last year, he ran a 3:52 mile at the Pre Classic and then swept the European 1500m and 3000m titles. But only once has an Ingebrigtsen bettered Cheruiyot or Manangoi in a race of any distance (Filip Ingebrigtsen placing fifth to Manangoi’s 10th at the 2016 Diamond League Finals 1500m), according to Tilastopaja.

MORE: Matthew Boling, high school track phenom, chooses summer meets

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Katie Ledecky talks swimming legacy and life in Gainesville

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OlympicTalk recently caught up with Katie Ledecky to discuss life since moving from Stanford to Florida 15 months ago, her meticulous mindset, and the legacy she continues to build.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can also catch an encore presentation of Ledecky’s performance at the 2022 U.S. Open this Saturday at 4:30 pm ET on NBC.

What does a typical day look like for you Gainesville? Walk me through a full day starting from the minute your alarm clock goes off.

Ledecky: A typical day would be waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning and swimming from 6 to 8. Then I have weights from 8 to 9:15. I get breakfast, have lunch and then take a nap. Then I have practice again at 2 or 3 in the afternoon for another two hours.

Wow, that sounds incredibly busy! Have you had a chance to find any new favorite places to eat in Gainesville?

Ledecky: I’m still kind of finding my spots. There is a breakfast spot pretty close to campus that a lot of the swimmers like, so I go there quite a bit, but I’m still looking. I haven’t gone to very many places more than once.

What are you doing in your free time? Are you coaching?

Ledecky: Yes, I’m volunteering with the [University of Florida] team, but I think of myself more as a teammate. I have a lot of other things going on with sponsorships, but aside from that, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have a piano and enjoy playing that!

How often do you get to see your family?

Ledecky: My parents, David and Mary, still live in the D.C. area, and then my brother, Michael, lives in New York, so I’m a lot closer to home [than at Stanford]. I see them around the holidays, and they come to a lot of my swim meets.

I know how much you love to stay academically engaged. Are you taking any classes at the University of Florida?

Ledecky: I’m not taking any classes right now. I’m taking a break, but I’m still trying to learn as much as I can just in other areas, reading a lot and watching the news, following different things that I’m interested in. I think at some point, I’ll probably go to grad school, but I’m still figuring out what area that would be in right now.

There’s a quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I feel like that only scratches the surface of describing your work ethic and mindset. You demand excellence in every area of your life, not just from yourself, but from others around you. Can you talk about where that mindset comes from?

Ledecky: I’ve always had that kind of a mindset. I’m very driven, and I’m always setting new goals for myself no matter what I’ve achieved in the past. I’m always looking forward, I don’t take very many breaks, and so it’s always on to the next goal and making sure I’m doing the little things right and doing the things I need to do to reach my goals.

To be able to perform at the level that you do every single day takes a lot of mental toughness. What do Katie Ledecky’s inner thoughts look like? What do you tell yourself? Any affirmations? 

Ledecky: I try to stay positive no matter how well or how poorly a practice or a race is going. When I’m swimming, I give myself positive mental pep talks along the way throughout a race. I’ll say “keep it up,” “hold pace” or “hit this turn.”

I just want to read you a few tweets… 

You idolized Michael Phelps when you were younger, and now you’re that person for a lot of people. You’re the GOAT. You’re Katie Ledecky. Someone’s idol. What does that feel like?

Ledecky: It’s an honor to have young swimmers look up to me, and I don’t take that lightly. I try to be a good role model and reach out to young kids and sign autographs and take photos if people approach me at swim meets. I hope that there are some young swimmers out there that will grow up to be champions or maybe they’ll just continue to love the sport or find other things that they’re passionate about, but it’s an honor.

Have you had any memorable interactions with young swimmers?

Ledecky:  Yeah, actually the World Cup in Indianapolis [in November]. We were given those giant checks at the end of the meet that you really can’t travel with, so I was able to sign it and give it to one of the basket carriers at the meet. They were thrilled, and it was fun to be able to put a smile on their face.

Give me just one word to describe each of these milestones in your life, starting with the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky: The first. It was my first international competition and my first gold medal, so that’s the one that’ll probably be the most special for me forever.

OLY-2012-SWIM

2016 Rio Olympics.

Ledecky: Consistency. I was swimming in multiple events at the Olympics for the first time and I just got into a really good rhythm and felt so comfortable in the pool deck. So confident. That was just a very unique feeling.

Tokyo Games.

Ledecky: Tokyo was different with all the COVID protocols. Nobody in the stands. No family there. But it was a lot of fun still, so a lot of great memories with my teammates there.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind at the end of your career? What do you want to be remembered for?

Ledecky: I’d like to be remembered as somebody that worked really hard and gave my best effort every time I got up on the blocks and represented Team USA. Hopefully, I can continue to inspire young kids to work hard in whatever it is that they are passionate about, whether that’s something academic, athletic, or something else. If you find something that you really love, you should go all in on it and try to be the best you can be at it.

You’ve achieved so much in life already personally and professionally, I just want to ask: Are you genuinely happy? Are you satisfied in this season of life right now?

Ledecky: Oh yeah, I’m very happy. I love the sport more and more every year. I get a little sad thinking about the day I will eventually retire–which isn’t anytime soon. I love the sport. I’m trying to just enjoy every day of training and racing and trying to be the best that I can be.

I say this all the time, I never imagined I would even make it to one Olympics and so to be training now to try to qualify for a fourth Olympics is it’s all just icing on the cake at this point and something that I truly enjoy. I enjoy doing it with my teammates, striving for similar goals, and getting to do it with really great people.

Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self — the little Palisades Porpoise?

Ledecky: I don’t have very many regrets or anything in my career, so I think I would just continue to tell myself to have fun and enjoy every moment. Maybe, write down a little bit more early on. I’ve done a better job of journaling and writing down different things so that I can remember them down the road, but I didn’t do as good of a job in 2012 and 2013.

Rapid-fire questions. Race day hype song? 

Ledecky: “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a meet without … 

Ledecky: My suit, cap and goggles.

Did you have AIM back in the day? What was your embarrassing screen name?

Ledecky: I didn’t. I didn’t even have a cell phone until before the London Olympics. I think I actually borrowed my brother’s phone for that, and then we went out and bought an iPad so that I could FaceTime my family from London. I didn’t have an email account either until high school.

Your life is on the line. You need to sing one karaoke song to save it. What are you picking?

Ledecky: Well, USA Swimming did carpool karaoke in 2016 before the Olympics. My car did “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which is a great karaoke song because it’s like 10 minutes long so maybe I would choose that just as a fun memory. We also did “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen in 2012. Those are two fun songs with some fond memories.

Post-workout meal?

Ledecky: After morning practice, eggs and toast or veggies and eggs. I love breakfast. I could eat breakfast food for all three meals and I’d be satisfied.

Cheat meal? 

Ledecky: Either pizza or a burger.

If you had to choose another Olympic sport to compete in what would it be and why? 

Ledecky: Probably hockey. I’m not good on skates, but it’s my favorite sport to watch.

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Marie-Philip Poulin is first female hockey player to win Canada Athlete of the Year

Marie-Philip Poulin
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Marie-Philip Poulin became the first female hockey player to win Canada’s Athlete of the Year after captaining the national team at the Winter Olympics and winning her third gold medal.

Poulin, 31, scored twice and assisted once in Canada’s 3-2 win over the U.S. in the Olympic final on Feb. 17. She has scored seven of Canada’s 10 goals over the last four Olympic finals dating to the 2010 Vancouver Games — all against the U.S.

Nine different male hockey players won Canada Athlete of the Year — now called the Northern Star Award — since its inception in 1936, led by Wayne Gretzky‘s four titles. Sidney Crosby won it in 2007 and 2009, and Carey Price was the most recent in 2015.

Poulin is the fifth consecutive Olympic champion to win the award in an Olympic year after bobsledder Kaillie Humphries in 2014, swimmer Penny Oleksiak in 2016, moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury in 2018 and decathlete Damian Warner in 2021.

Canada’s other gold medalists at February’s Olympics were snowboarder Max Parrot in slopestyle, plus teams in speed skating’s women’s team pursuit and short track’s men’s 5000m relay.

In men’s hockey, Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in leading the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy as the season’s best defenseman.

The Northern Star Award is annually decided by Canadian sports journalists.

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